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White House steps up lobbying effort for China trade bill

May 2, 2000
Web posted at: 3:36 p.m. EDT (1936 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House on Tuesday intensified its push for Congress to establish permanent normal trade relations with China amid growing administration optimism that the legislation will be approved later this month.

Clinton
President Bill Clinton  

The White House saluted the recent public backing of the legislation by a member of the House Democratic leadership team, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. And, administration sources tell CNN there are tentative plans for an announcement later this week on Capitol Hill featuring a handful or more of Democratic lawmakers who are still publicly undecided on the controversial issue.

The president's personal lobbying campaign included a pitch for the legislation during a morning speech to an insurance group meeting in Washington on Tuesday.

Mr. Clinton said it would be "a very, very unwise and precarious move" for Congress to deny China permanent normal trade relations, known as PNTR.

The president meets Tuesday evening with Hong Kong Democratic leader Martin Lee -- a proponent of China's entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) -- and separately with a group of Democratic lawmakers who are either undecided or considered soft proponents or opponents of the legislation.

In a speech at New York's Columbia University, White House National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said the issue is critical for national security as well as for economic reasons.

"We do not in any way, shape or form make it easier for China to sell products in America. And we do not give up any safeguards that protect our market now," Berger said.

Berger told the school's East Asian Institute: "We have fought three wars in Asia in the 20th Century. Our future is tied to Asia. And the stability of Asia -- economically, politically and militarily, is inextricably entwined with the stability and direction of China. As China develops over the next decade, the path it illuminates or the shadow it casts will be felt far from its borders."

U.S. rejection of normal trade relations with China would set off a "downward spiral" in Asia and hurt chances of a China-Taiwan dialogue, he explained.

"Rejection will set off a downward spiral that could disrupt stability in Asia, diminish the chance of a dialogue across the Taiwan Strait, and deflate hopes for a more constructive relationship between the U.S. and China," Berger said.

Passage of legislation granting China PNTR is necessary for the United States to gain the benefits of China's entry into the WTO. Those benefits include low-tariff access to Chinese agriculture and technological markets.

Approving the trade pact would end the annual debate over whether China should get normal trade relations -- a designation previously known as Most Favored Nation (MFN) status.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) has recently come out against the trade pact, and organized labor is also opposed, saying the agreement would take jobs away from American workers.

Other critics contend that China does not deserve the designation because of its human rights record and failure to guarantee labor rights and other freedoms.

The administration, however, argues that progress on those issues is more likely if the United States has an active, open relationship with Beijing, and makes the case that rejecting the trade legislation could convince China to retreat from its dealings with the United States.

In his speech, Berger made this argument, saying: "Rejecting PNTR would be the worst possible blow to the best possible hope we have had in more than 30 years to encourage positive change in China."

White House officials and their allies on Capitol Hill, including key Republican lawmakers, are increasingly optimistic the measure will pass Congress, but an administration official said the White House would not let its guard down because the number of lawmakers publicly committed to the measure was still shy of the votes necessary for passage.

 
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